A Few Thoughts on A Loss

This post is more personal and has little to do with photography.  For those here for just photography related subjects you may safely skip it.

Death is the one thing that I think defines humanity more than any other.  Alone among the inhabitants of our planet we are aware of our own mortality.  Animals feel fear of the things such as predators that may hurt or kill them, but only humanity is aware that we will never avoid every ill and someday we will die.

The reason that I think death defines us is because much of what we do is a degree a defiance of the inevitability of it.  We know that we cannot live forever, but we insist on creating, learning, and building.  We build friendships and love each other though we know that some day the loss of some of those we care for will leave us with an absence and the pain that comes from knowing a part of our life is now gone forever.  We know that the joys of the time we have together will more than compensate for the loss we may someday feel.

We also strive against this inevitability by creation.  People have children in part as a way to pass part of themselves on to the future.  Most of us try to leave the world improved in our time on it so that those who come after we are gone will benefit from the work we’ve done.  Artists create works of art do try to capture the world as it is or how we wish it to be for the future.  We all wish to leave something behind when we pass on as a marker on the world that we existed and that our time here mattered.  My personal photography is partly an attempt to capture the vitality and beauty of life knowing that it is a precious gift that should be cherished.

An uncle passed away a few days ago and I write this after attending his funeral earlier tonight.  He was a good man and lived a long and good life.  The funeral home was filled with his family, friends, and the friends of his children and grandchildren tonight.  When I say it was filled, I do mean that almost the entire chapel was full.  In the end that is perhaps the best indicator of the value of a life.

I grew up very religious, but have lost some of my faith through the slings and briars of life.  I still believe that something awaits us beyond this life and do believe that he is in a better place beyond the pain and suffering of life.  That said, I think when one is gone and is missed and loved and remembered in the hearts of those he touched in life, then one has truly cheated death by living on with those who remain.

So to my uncle I big a fond adieu and the thanks that I had the chance to know him in this life.  I also have the knowledge that I am a better person for having him in my family and knowing him.

Why Do I Photograph Nudes?

I’m currently in the middle of a run of shoots.  For some reason my artistic nude work tends to mostly come in clusters and I’m currently in the middle of a busy stretch of time.  I just came back from a short vacation and while out of town I took the opportunity to connect with a model I’d worked with a number of years ago and shoot with her. Later in the day for lunch I met a friend and the topic of my photography came up.  A question that I get often from friends came up, so let me answer the question here.  What follows is my answer to why do I photograph nudes?

I live in a rural area in East Tennessee, a place that I think by most standards would be considered conservative.  It’s a good place, with a lot of things to recommend it, but as a place to work in artistic nude photography, it’s not the center of any universe.  Doing nude photography here is hard under the best of circumstances because of the lack of good models open to nude work and a pervasive belief by so many people that nudity = sex and taking photos of nudes = porn. The later concern is not just around here though. Americans in general seem to have a bit of a general love/hate relationship with nudity, but here it’s probably worse than many places.

I’ve been asked a couple of times by close friends, ones I trust, if I worry about any repercussions from the photographic work that I do. Photography isn’t my main source of making a living, the job that pays the mortgage as I often refer to it, but more of a side job or hobby.  I enjoy my “real” job. I’m good at it and I feel it lets me make the world a better place. I know that going to a job you enjoy every day is a blessing and do not discount how lucky I am to have found that. It’s not a job where my photographic work would be a direct threat to my employment, but I know there could be those there who would be offended or somehow see it as wrong given how easily many are offended. It’s the main reason I started working under the alias of Candid Vision instead of my real name shortly after I began to work with the female nude as my primary subject of interest. I don’t hide what I do, but at the same time I don’t put a sign on my office door either.

Why do I shoot nudes? It’s because ultimately I’m drawn to the female form. That’s been the case honestly for as long as I remember. Even before I was old enough to really understand sex, something about the female shape intrigued me. When I began to start working in photography, I was instantly drawn to the female nude as a subject. In some ways it felt that I found a part of my life that had always been missing, the ability to express the artistic view of how I’ve always seen the body of a woman.

I don’t go as far as many and claim that there is no sexual aspect to the female nude.  I think that sexuality can be present in an artistic photo and that you can have female nudes with elements of sexuality and eroticism that are not trashy or pornographic.  The approach is that you treat those elements with respect toward the model and the viewer where it makes up part of the photo and not the sole purpose of the photo.  I recently took some photos that I think capture this balance and will post them soon.

Ultimately I think that there is something in many people, myself included, that draws us to working with the human nude either as models, photographers, painters, or some other form of artist.  I think we share a sense that general society’s view of nudity is missing something.  Something seems lacking in the traditional view that being nude should be reserved for specific circumstances such as our most intimate partners which leads many to the lesson that is that there is something wrong or shameful about the human body. We do not see the human body as something to be ashamed about, but something wonderful to be cherished and explored.

I’ve known models who dealt with hostility from friends, family, and romantic partners over posing nude and some stopped working because of it.  But for many something deep inside us drives us to work with the nude figure either posing nude or capture the nude form in paint or on camera.  These two groups form a symbiotic relationship as the artist needs the model to pose as much as the model needs the artist to capture them.  If I may borrow from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, this need is a higher level construct.  It is not a basic need like food or security, or friendship, but tied into esteem and self-actualization. It’s a part of what I need as a person to feel completed.  It overrides these other concerns and the opinions of those who may disapprove of my work.  That is why I shoot nudes.